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Frugal Family: Food Preservation

A great way to preserve fruits and vegetables (among other foods) is to dehydrate them with a food dehydrator.

By dehydrating foods, you remove most of their moisture making the food less likely to spoil over time and reuse its volume so it takes up less space to store.

Currently I have nine tomato plants that survived the heat, humidity and rains of this summer and they’re slowly ripening. What can be done with the weekly crop of tomatoes besides using them for salads, sandwiches and other usual recipes?

With a dehydrator you can make your own sun-dried tomatoes and it’s quite simple!

  1. Simply get a fresh batch of Roma tomatoes from your garden. They’re meatier and do very well when sun-dried.
  2. Cut them into quarters and remove the middle ‘stem’ part of the tomato. It’s a bit tougher than the surrounding flesh. You can also remove the seeds if you like, but I never do since the ones at the store don’t. Try to keep the pieces uniform in shape so they dry at the same rate.
  3. Place them on the screen of the dehydrator leaving room around them so the air circulates. I sprinkle them with a bit of sea salt and fresh basil from the garden.
  4. Start the dehydrator and wait for your kitchen to smell amazing. For me it took about eight hours for all of the pieces to completely dry. I did check after five hours because some of the pieces were smaller and I figured they would dry sooner.  
  5. To store them you can keep them in a container in your pantry, the refrigerator or freezer. When you’re ready to use them, simply let them soak in olive oil for 24 hours (keep the oil for use on pasta and salads) or soak them in boiling water for a half hour.

Zucchini’s can grow to amazing proportions in home gardens and with a dehydrator you can make tasty and healthy zucchini chips. Simply cut them into thin slices, sprinkle with salt and dry.

There are quite a few different brands and styles of dehydrators available. and both sell the one that I own (less that $50) and included a jerky gun. Why pay all that money for beef jerky when you can make your own.

Green beans, onions and even mushrooms can be dried out and stored for later use. Simply rehydrate them and use in your family’s meals. Let them soak in water for a half-hour or add them directly to soups and stews.

Peaches are in season at  and  and can be dried for use in kids' lunches. Apple chips are another nutritious treat. Dip the slices of apple in lemon juice to keep them from browining and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar for a healthy snack alternative. Either way, they'res a cheaper version of what you would find in stores and you know the ingredients going into them.

Some tips when it comes to dehydrating:

  • Make sure the slices of food are the same size so that everything dries out evenly. Sometimes that’s not possible (like when I dry out tomatoes) so as I check them every few hours I’ll take out any pieces that are ready.
  • Store the dehydrated foods in a dark, cool place in your home in air-tight jars or zip lock bags. 
  • The first few times you use a dehydrator you may be unsure so just check on the foods every half-hour to hour to see how they’re progressing. Foods should be pliable like leather. If you’re not comfortable with leaving the foods out at room temperature you can always keep the in the freezer. Dehydrators typically come with recipe books that have guidelines for drying times for various foods.
  • Once you’re comfortable with drying foods in your dehydrator you can set things up and go to bed. You’ll wake up to the foods done (or almost done) and, depending upon what you’re drying, a great smelling kitchen. 

For more information on dehydrating food check out the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's College of Agriculture website as well as Pickyourown.org for more tips and recipes.

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